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August 14, 2006

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5 That Almost Made the List of Greatest Software Ever
InformationWeek (08/11/06) Babcock, Charles

In compiling a list of the 12 greatest software applications ever written, there were some very strong candidates that just missed the cut, writes Charles Babcock. In 1963, MIT student Edward Sutherland submitted a doctoral thesis laying the theoretical groundwork for the Sketchpad software that ultimately led to the graphical user interfaces in Windows and the Macintosh. Sketchpad revolutionized the way that people navigated the computer screen by treating it as a navigable window rather than the sequential command lines that had characterized computer interfaces for the previous 20 years. Sutherland was awarded the ACM Turing Award in 1988, and while his work was an undeniable breakthrough, it was so far ahead of its time that it was impossible to implement all of its ideas in software at the time. Another close runner up was Smalltalk, a major breakthrough to be sure, but one that has been eclipsed by Java's network-oriented structure that will have much greater staying power as the Internet age progresses. Though they have clearly revolutionized the types of applications available to users, geographical positioning systems (GPS) just missed the cut because those applications are largely made possible by the availability of data. Previous programs had achieved the same type of data interaction, just with less spectacular results. Video games are perhaps the best representation of the development of the graphical user interface. While the ability to create immersive texture-rich simulations on a two-dimensional screen is remarkable, it is difficult to select the one game that is the best embodiment of the technology. Finally, the VMware ESX Server just missed the cut, despite having facilitated the revolution in virtualization that has reshaped the world of Intel and AMD servers.
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A Sentinel to Screen Phone Calls
Technology Review (08/14/06) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Microsoft researchers have developed a technique for automatically screening phone calls. The system, called V-Priorities, determines if the caller is a friend, family member, co-worker, or stranger, and evaluates the call's urgency by analyzing characteristics of the caller's voice. It then decides whether to send the call through or transfer it to voice mail. Though originally designed as part of a broader effort to ensure that individuals do not miss important calls while in a meeting, the system could help stem the growing tide of spam phone calls. Preliminary testing found that the system can detect with 90 percent accuracy determining whether or not calls were solicited. It accurately judged when calls were personal or for business 75 percent of the time, and it judged personal closeness with 84 percent accuracy. While voice spam is still relatively rare, it is likely to increase with the growing popularity of voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP). In addition to increasing the volume of voice spam, greater VoIP usage could also compromise corporate network security as viruses and other malware could conceivably enter a network simply by answering a phone. V-Priorities has three levels of analysis. One level studies the prosody of the caller's voice, examining its rhythm, syllabic rate, pitch, and pause length. The second level of analysis scans for target words that could give away the purpose of a call. Finally, the system considers metadata, such as the length and time of a message. The machine-learning algorithm that powers the prototype of the system was trained by analyzing 207 voice messages that one individual received over eight months. Though the prototype was developed by analyzing voice mail messages, the final version would actually answer a call and ask the caller to identify himself. It is based on the same challenge response technique that can screen for spam in email, though that technology has not been very popular.
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Italy Wins World Cup of Programming
PC Magazine (08/11/06) Del Conte, Natali

The Italian team Even .ctor placed first in the software design category in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a competition that challenges student programmers to develop real-life technology applications. One hundred and eighty-one students from 72 teams representing 42 countries participated in the event held last Friday. Poland's Piotr Marek Mikulski took first prize in the algorithm category; Australia's Andreas Tomek won the IT category; and Team Atomnium from France took the top spot in the programming contest. "These projects demonstrate the power of software to address real-world problems, and I'm so impressed by the high levels of technical innovation that these students achieved in their work," said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. "This year's Imagine Cup participants all share a commitment to improving people's lives that is very inspiring. They represent the next generation of business and technology leaders, and their creativity and passion are reasons for us all to be optimistic about the future." More than 65,000 students entered the first round of the competition. Now in its fourth year, this year's Imagine Cup had a theme of "Imagine a world where technology enables us to live healthier lives." Winners receive $25,000 in cash and are honored at an awards ceremony in Delhi, India, where the competition was held. Next year's competition will be held in Seoul, South Korea.
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Your Life as an Open Book
New York Times (08/12/06) P. B1; Zeller Jr., Tom

Privacy advocates and industry analysts say a clear position on the confidentiality of users' online search behavior must be made, for there are currently no laws to restrict the exploitation of such data, which is a highly desirable commodity for marketers, law enforcement agencies, and academic researchers. "In many contexts, consumers already have the expectation that information about their cultural consumption will not be sold," notes University of California, Berkeley, research Chris Jay Hoofnagle. "They understand that the library items that they check out, the specific television shows that they watch, the videos that they rent are protected information." AOL's inadvertent disclosure of hundreds of thousands of users' Internet search queries last week is viewed by some privacy proponents as a colossal blunder for the search industry comparable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. "This AOL breach is just a tiny drop in the giant pool of information that these companies have collected," says Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston. "The sensitivity of this data cannot be overemphasized." Legislative attempts to address the problem have been waylaid by skirmishes between privacy advocates seeking wide-ranging consumer data safeguards, and the financial sector, which wants to evade burdensome legislation and override stricter state laws. Meanwhile, Congress has been debating taking a cue from Europe and requiring the telecom and Internet industries to retain consumer communications records for a set period in case they are needed in law enforcement inquiries.
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It's Science, Jim, But Not as We Know It
the age (08/14/06) Cook, Margaret

More positive female role models of women in science in television and movies could lead to more women pursuing technical careers, claims Margaret Wertheim, an Australian science writer. In "Pythagoras' Trousers: God Physics and the Gender Wars," the 1997 book that brought her international acclaim, Wertheim argues that women have been underrepresented in science ever since its emergence 2,500 years ago. "There is a deeply entrenched view in our society that maths is a masculine activity and that women are not innately inclined towards it," Wertheim says, adding that boys usually get more attention in math and science classes than girls. Wertheim believes that math and science careers would be more appealing to university students if they paid more, and that the situation could become critical as baby boomers begin to retire. She is particularly concerned about the number of qualified math and science teachers. Wertheim dismisses as "bunkum" President Bush's proposal to spend $100 billion on missions to Mars as a way to stimulate interest in science and math among kids. "Instead, let's spend it on 100,000 science and maths teachers for a decade and pay them $100,000 each," she says. "If we're serious about getting more children into these subjects, then we must provide them with good teachers."
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Computer Grid Aims to Predict Storm Surge
Computerworld (08/11/06) Thibodeau, Patrick

The Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) is gaining more computing power for a computer grid that will be used for a number of research activities, including storm modeling. The research universities have obtained new servers that are expected to double the number of CPUs in the heterogeneous environment on the grid to about 1,800, and increase the computing power from about 3 teraFLOPS, or 2 trillion calculations per second, to about 10 TFLOPS. SURA has spent the past two and a half years building the grid, and it counts the Coastal Ocean Observing and Prediction Program among its research initiatives. SURA is working to develop forecasting models that will allow scientists to accurately predict a storm surge 72 hours before it begins to approach. Currently, scientists are accurate in their forecasts about 24 hours before a storm. "The real challenge here is to be able to create a product far enough in advance of a storm hitting the coast to actually take action," says Gary Crane, director of IT initiatives for SURA. For example, the grid could help determine when to lower New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain flood gates. About 14 of SURA's 62 members participate in the grid, which could gain more computing resources for analyzing meteorological and oceanographic data as more universities sign on.
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From Snapshot to Cover Model in a Single Click
New Scientist (08/12/06) Biever, Celeste

ACM's recent SIGGRAPH conference in Boston featured a presentation on an algorithm that is able to enhance the appearance of a human face in a photograph within a few minutes. Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel developed the "digital beautification" algorithm, which does not make substantial changes to the appearance of a person. Instead, Tommer Leyvand and colleague Yael Eisenthal have designed the algorithm to make subtle alterations to the photograph of a face in order to make the person appear more attractive. The researchers have created a set of rules on attractiveness for a software program, based on how people rated the appearance of faces in approximately 200 photographs. The software analyzed the images for distances between facial features and ratios such as facial width between eye and mouth level to come up with the set of rules, or the "beauty function," and another program was developed to apply the algorithm to a facial image and then analyze the changes to determine whether the alterations make the person appear more attractive.
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Do ICTs Improve Our Lives?
IST Results (08/11/06)

Drawing on an analysis of socioeconomic surveys, the IST project SOCQUIT is attempting to determine whether information communication technologies (ICT) actually promote social interaction and improve people's lives, or if they run counter to social networks. "Take the television as an example. It draws people away from real-life contact with family and friends, could it be the same with computers and the Internet?" asks Jeroen Heres, SOCQUIT project coordinator. To give policy makers a better understanding of the effects of ICTs, the project sought to determine whether they have an effect on people's ability to find a job, whether they allow people to work past retirement, and whether the digital revolution has not yet reached migrants. Conventional wisdom holds that with 90 percent of new jobs and 60 percent of existing ones requiring ICT skills, computers should greatly improve people's ability to find a job. On the contrary, the study found that social contact is the predominant influence on employment, and that ICTs do not provide the employment benefits for older workers that many had assumed they did. The SOCQUIT project also found that social inclusion has a greater impact on employment prospects for older workers than training. The SOCQUIT report argues that the greatest opportunity for ICTs to improve personal well-being is through their effect on a person's social life, though it warns that policy efforts in the short term would only widen the digital divide, as the socially isolated would still be left behind, while those with active social lives would enjoy strengthened skills.
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IBM, Pace Partner to Boost Students' Cutting-Edge Computer Skills
Journal News (NY) (08/10/06) Alterio, Julie Moran

IBM is taking a more hands-on approach to its partnership with Pace University. The Armonk, N.Y., based technology giant will assist the Ivan G. Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems in its effort to develop its curriculum for the study of the mainframe, Linux, and other open source technology. IBM and Pace expect to better prepare the school's tech graduates with the computer skills that employers demand of young hires today. According to an IBM survey, 75 percent of CEOs around the world say there is a gap in the skill level of their workforce. IBM teamed up with Pace last year for a program that allows its personnel to teach courses, mentor students and provide them with career advice, and its research and development laboratories in Poughkeepsie, Yorktown Heights, and Hawthorne to host students for field trips. "There's a very great need for information technology professionals, and at the same time, fewer students are choosing to study computer science," says Dean Susan Merritt. "A program like this is terrific because it provides a lot of resources to the students to be prepared for the very large need out there for computer science and IT professionals."
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A Fundamental Look at DNSSEC, Deployment, and DNS Security Extensions
CircleID (08/10/06) Huston, Geoff

The integrity of Internet-based applications and services is prey to the corruption of the Domain Name Service's (DNS) operation, writes Geoff Huston, chief Scientist in the Internet area for Telstra. Instances where bogus DNS data is being passed off as valid can be identified through DNSSEC, which is not public key infrastructure. DNSSEC specifies an extension to the DNS via the classification of additional DNS Resource Records that DNS clients can use to confirm the DNS response's authenticity and data integrity, as well as authenticate the nonexistence of a domain or resource type mentioned in a fraudulent response. DNSSEC lacks public key certificates, revocation capability, and explicit identification of the involved parties. DNSSEC's performance can be affected by a number of issues, including the increasing average size of a DNS response message because of the additional signature records tacked on to the response; the complexity of DNSSEC implementation and the problems a DNSSEC-aware resolver may have to contend with owing to expired keys or mundane zone configuration errors; the employment of the activity of a small query generating a large response as denial-of-service amplifiers; variable DNS root zone key rollover; and the increasing size of the zone file due to additional DNSSEC records. The DNS could theoretically support applications related to key distribution mechanisms through the introduction of signed data into the DNS. Possible candidates are public key certificates in the DNS in the context of key distribution for IPSEC or SSH. Meanwhile, the employment of such certificates in the DNS as a way to supply additional data to help receiving domains spot certain forms of email spoofing is another area of interest Huston cites. One of the biggest obstacles facing DNSSEC deployment is the resistance to change that is inherent in an extremely large system such as the Internet.
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An Experimental Study of the Coloring Problem on Human Subject Networks
Science (08/11/06) Vol. 313, No. 5788, P. 824; Kearns, Michael; Suri, Siddarth; Montfort, Nick

The behavior and dynamics of naturally occurring networks can be influenced by the networks' structural characteristics, according to theory. But there is difficulty gleaning connections between behavior and structure by empirical analysis, because such analysis usually covers fixed networks. Michael Kearns, Nick Montfort, and Siddarth Suri of the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Computer and Information Science ran an experimental study on six human subject networks attempting to solve the graph or network coloring problem, which models environments where drawing a distinction between one's behavior and that of one's neighbors is preferable. The researchers determined that it was less difficult for networks based on cyclical structures to solve the coloring problem than it was for networks based on preferential attachment, while "small worlds" networks could solve the problem with even less difficulty. Kearns, Montfort, and Suri's research demonstrated that increasing the amount of information provided significantly decreased the time it took for the cycle-based networks to solve the problem, and significantly increased it for preferential attachment-based networks. Exit polls asking the subjects what tactics they used showed they frequently and independently adopted strategies that included selecting colors that result in the least number of local conflicts, and avoiding conflicts with neighbors with high connectivity. "With further study, such findings may have implications for areas such as information sharing across large organizations and the design of user interfaces for complex systems for multiparty coordination," the researchers concluded.
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Write as We Fight
Military Information Technology (08/14/06) Vol. 10, No. 7,Payton, Sue C.; Herz, J.C.; Lucas, Mark

The Defense Department's software is rooted in proprietary systems, a situation that makes the responsiveness and agility the military would have if it followed an open acquisitions strategy virtually impossible, writes deputy secretary of defense for advanced systems and concepts Sue Payton. "If the boots-on-the-ground community is urged to 'train as you fight,' the technology community that supports warfighters must similarly be urged to code as we fight--not as a set of scattered assembly lines, but as a robust, responsive network," she argues. Thrifty budgets and declines in U.S. science and engineering graduates are conspiring to spur the DoD into making fuller use of resources, which cannot happen unless the closed software development model is discarded. The collaborative nature of private-sector open source software development is a model the department should aspire to, given its rapid software modification, a sprawling community of contributing programmers, and free distribution, according to Payton. Other benefits of open source development include faster and less expensive deployment, a bigger and more transparent technical talent base, and relief from the overhead of network architecture upgrades. Furthermore, the chances of catching bugs and code defects and making software secure and reliable are greatly increased by the rigorous scrutiny open source software is subjected to. "In cases where the military pays to develop software for its own use, as opposed to licensing pre-existing software developed commercially, DoD needs to assert its legally established government rights to view, access and modify code, and leverage it across the department," Payton insists. A two-year roadmap for incorporating open-source software development within the DoD was outlined in an April 2006 document.
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Free to Be GPL 3?
eWeek (08/07/06) Vol. 23, No. 31, P. 18; Brooks, Jason

The release of a second draft of the GNU General Public License Version 3 touched off a firestorm of criticism from the open source community, mainly centering around the accusation that Free Software Foundation (FSF) director Richard Stallman is an impractical evangelist who subordinates concerns about viable business models to the ideological defense of free software as an inherent good. The charge is irrelevant, writes Jason Brooks, as Stallman by his own repeated admission is an unflinching advocate of free software as an end in itself. While many of the changes to the license are clarifications of points covered in the last update in 1991, the proliferation of software patents and other issues which the FSF feels the license needs to address have emerged since the last update. The provisions in the update dealing with digital rights management are among the more controversial. The issue centers around whether or not free software that contains cryptographic signatures that restrict use can still be considered free. Ultimately, the success of the GPLv3 will depend on the quality of the software that developers and vendors release under it. The FSF has the choice of moderating the language that has alienated prominent members of the open source community, such as Linus Torvalds, who has vowed not to move the Linux kernel to the GPL 3 in its current form, or risk losing the participation of the prominent free software projects that made the GPL an important force to begin with.
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I.T. Versus Terror
CIO (08/01/06) Vol. 19, No. 20, P. 34; Worthen, Ben

Data mining is the counterterrorism IT technology of choice for the U.S. government and intelligence community, according to experts. "There is a real fear of not going down this path, because if there is value you don't want to be on the side that opposed [a data mining project]," notes former deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Information Awareness Office Robert Popp. The government has thus far avoided viewing data mining in the context of IT value, preferring to call the apprehension of terrorists all the validation the methodology needs, according to former Homeland Security Department CIO Steve Cooper. Fred Cate of the University of Indiana's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research maintains that "As far as the oversight process is concerned, it is clear that [data mining to prevent terrorism] is a disaster." Data mining experts argue that the government's antiterrorism IT strategy should be rigorously analyzed in the same manner that corporate CIOs vet company IT projects. Experts also recommend that the government avoid defining IT projects--those involving data mining in particular--too broadly, citing examples of systems such as Capps II and Secure Flight whose implementation is repeatedly delayed and whose generation of false positives is unacceptable. Still, there is a general consensus among data mining experts that the technique can effectively fight terrorism, provided that it is managed appropriately. Cate says, "There are some extraordinarily smart people [working on data mining systems], and I would be hard pressed to think that they are wasting their lives on something that doesn't work...But one of the things [the Defense Department's Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee] kept focusing on was that you have to be able to show that it works within acceptable parameters."
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Displays of a Different Stripe
IEEE Spectrum (08/06) Vol. 43, No. 8, P. 40; Pollack, Joel

A biomimetic design approach to electronic displays can conserve a great deal of power by supplying no more data than the eye can perceive and the brain can take in, writes Clairvoyante CEO Joel Pollack. Of the three types of cone photoreceptors in the human retina, there are more red and green cones than blue cones, yet most flat-panel displays distribute red, green, and blue color elements, or subpixels, in equal ratios and configure them in either a stripe or delta pattern. The role of the blue subpixels in helping the eye resolve images is negligible, so there is a lot of waste. One power-saving strategy is the use of the Bayer pattern, which includes additional subpixels in the color green and connects the green subpixels diagonally. Clairvoyante's PenTile Matrix avoids the Bayer pattern's color imbalance by reducing the size of all the subpixels, making the green subpixels smaller than the red and blue subpixels, spinning the pattern 45 degrees, and adding a white or clear subpixel; the result is upgraded efficiency as color filters absorb wavelengths from the backlight. The four-subpixel arrangement is still inefficient, so Clairvoyante employed software algorithms to render a pixel with an average of just two subpixels. This allows luminance and color to be represented in multiple red, green, blue, and white combinations.
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An Impending Massive 3-D Mashup--Part III: Focus on Future Development
GeoWorld (08/06) Vol. 19, No. 8, P. 28; Limp, Fred

The success of 3D geospatial applications relies heavily on interoperability, and though many fields have developed strong "information silos" with compatible data structures and standards, making those silos interoperable in terms of nomenclature, structures, semantics, and ontologies is key, according to Fred Limp with the University of Arkansas' Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies. There are important standards, specs, and data schemas that people dealing with 3D geospatial information should keep in mind, including the Open Spatial Consortium's CityGML spec, the aecXML specs for information interoperability, ANSI's Spatial Data Standard for Facilities Infrastructure and Environment (SDSFIE), the LandXML format, and the LAS format approved by the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. The creation of standard 3D data storage structures is a step toward realizing the storage, manipulation, and analysis of 3D data within a "standard" database, notes Limp. New developments he deems worthy of consideration include the creation of geographic exploration software such as Google Earth version 4 and Skyline Software's SkylineGlobe.com product; products that aim to incorporate realistic 3D vegetation and natural landscapes into 3D applications and geographic explorers; and products that can visualize subterranean processes. Limp presents a mandate for 3D geospatial mashup that stresses the geospatial community's need to comprehend the various technologies in order to maximize its effectiveness. Among his recommendations is increased familiarity with levels of detail, faster product production, avoidance of "feature-itis," an emphasis on Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS), an awareness of the community's existing strengths, and the bolstering of "our capacities in data acquisition, spatial analysis, spatial data mining and creating information where there was originally only data."
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